Transport stoppages to run into weekend amid protests against planned pension changes
France is facing a second day of travel chaos and school closures after unions said there would be no let-up in nationwide strikes against Emmanuel Macron’s proposed changes to the pensions system.
The far-reaching strike, which brought more than 800,000 people on to the streets on Thursday, is seen as the greatest test yet for the centrist president, who has promised to deliver the biggest “transformation” of the French social model and welfare system since the immediate post-war era.
Rail workers, air traffic controllers and teachers walked out, leaving transport paralysed and many schools shut. Some schools reopened on Friday, but many classes and canteens were still disrupted. Friday’s transport stoppages will run into the weekend, with almost all high-speed train services cancelled, most of the Paris metro shut down and hundreds of flights axed.
By rush-hour on Friday morning, there were 215 miles (350km) of traffic jams in the Paris area as workers used their cars to get to work.
The strikes were called primarily in protest at planned changes to the pension system, but marchers – including hospital staff, firefighters and teachers – also complained about cuts to public services and what they called a “dismantling” of the French social model, the country’s traditionally strong safety net for old people and the unemployed.
‘Everyone is on the streets’: strike forces France to a halt – video
After months of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protests earlier this year, a majority of the French public believes the country is in a social crisis, with a sense of people struggling to make ends meet and public services shrinking. “There’s a feeling of restlessness and worry in the air,” said one Paris university lecturer who had gone on strike and joined the protests.
Featured image: Empty platforms at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris during strike action on Thursday. , Charles Platiau/Reuters